Cincinnati May Scrap Parking Minimums Downtown

Cincinnati, as seen from Northern Kentucky

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Cincinnati City Councilor Roxanne Qualls is leading the charge to abolish parking minimums for developers building homes in the downtown and Over-the-Rhine neighborhoods.

I’m particularly excited to learn of this development for personal reasons. Qualls was mayor of Cincinnati in the late-1990s and after leaving office did a stint at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government as an Institute of Politics Fellow. While there, she led an undergraduate study group about urban planning that I participated in. So, in a meaningful way, my present obsession with parking regulations and anti-density rules all goes back to Qualls, and now she’s taking the lead on an important reform initiative.


The current rule is that each residence in those neighborhoods must have a parking space. This does a few things. One is that it increases the per unit cost of housing. As a consequence, there’s less housing in those neighborhoods than there otherwise would be. And as a consequence of that reduced density there’s less walkability than would otherwise exist. Then, on the flipside, it’s hardly as if in a nonregulated environment developers wouldn’t be building any parking. It’s just that the regulatory mandate means that parking is available to car owners at below-market rates. That subsidized parking leads to somewhat more cars-per-household being owned (as always, the one car/two car margin may be more important here than the one car/zero cars margin) which leads to less business development that caters to nonautomotivity. So the below-market pricing of parking spaces actually increases the real market demand for cars and parking. Absent the regulation, you’ll start out with a marginally lower level of cars per adult. But that will lead to more businesses oriented toward transit, walking, biking, or delivery. And that will increase the viability of getting by with fewer than one car per adult. And specifically on the auto front, once you have a substantial population getting by with fewer cars than people you have more of a market for things like ZipCar and taxis that are specifically designed to help people engage in sporadic car use without necessarily being twice-a-day car commuters.

Correction April 18, 2012: Originally, the headline of this post mistakenly said Cleveland, rather than Cincinnati, was considering changing its parking regulations. It also misspelled the name of Roxanne Qualls.